“A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting” – Christian Dior
There is a certain romance surrounding scents – driven by the luxury of perfumes and the mystery and suspense of Perfume by Suskind. Scents also have the uncanny ability to immediately conjure up memories. That’s because (unlike sight, touch and hearing) scents are directly processed by the hippocampus, the brains centre of long-term memory.
Last week I attended a lecture presented by the scent and flavour development company International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF). They not only specialize in the creation of luxury perfumes, but are also the noses and brains behind many of the scents you encounter in daily life – laundry detergents, air fresheners, fabric softeners…etc. The thought and research that is placed behind those ‘daily life’ scents are what surprised/interested me the most.
Smells like clean spirit
An example was how they designed laundry detergent smells for different markets. I had heard of the idea that scents have different ‘notes’: a top note that is smelled directly but evaporates quickly, a heart that is the essence of the scent and stays longer and the base note that underlines the scent and remains when all the other notes have gone. For the design of laundry detergent, the various notes of the scent are also relevant. The top note is the scent you smell when you open the bottle, the heart is the scent that is released whilst washing and the base note is the smell that remains on your sheets after they have dried. When designing a new laundry detergent smell for a particular market, IFF analyses how the target group does their laundry and what their expectations are. For example, in South Africa they found that doing the laundry was a long task that was mainly performed by hand. This meant that it was extra important that the heart note (that was released during the washing process) was pleasant. Furthermore, the women that did the wash there exhibited pride in clean clothes that were freshly washed – so a strong base note that lingered was also positive because it signalled to the neighbours that the women of the household were diligent washers.
Smells like victory!
The lecture ended with a brief to design a scent for a ‘pink fabric softener’. Scents can also be associated with colours, and it was important that this scent smelled ‘pink’. Although it may seem silly, apparently most people associate smells with different colours – so it was important that the associated colour of the scent matched the colour of the actual product. The team that created a scent that was voted most appropriate received a scent as prize. And our team won!! But even though I was mesmerized by the thought and care behind designing the smell of a pink fabric softener or laundry detergent, I decided to pick a perfume for my prize rather than a laundry detergent…
image by Kate Spade, found here.